Radio, mobile communications, and women’s empowerment: Experiences in Mathare, Nairobi
This article presents findings from a study of young women’s empowerment through the use of information and communication technology (ICT), specifically the use of radio and mobile communications, in the Mathare informal settlements of Nairobi. Data was collected through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with young women. The findings were extrapolated through the lens of Longwe’s five- stage women’s empowerment framework (Longwe, 1991). Longwe posits that the empowerment of women can be viewed through a prism of ascension, the initial stage being welfare, followed by access, conscientisation, participation, and then control, the highest level of empowerment. The study finds that the use of radio and mobile communications has empowered many young women to engage in conversations on issues affecting them, and with useful information on how to improve their means of livelihood. At the same time, mobile communications have enabled many young women to achieve financial inclusion by engaging in income-generating activities. In addition, mobile communications have empowered young women by providing them with access to financial services and the ability to manage their finances. Such empowerment, when viewed through the Longwe (1991) framework, is a remarkable progression on empowerment by young women through the initial stages up to the highest levels of participation and control. At the same time, the study finds that the empowerment of young women through ICTs is held back to some extent by socioeconomic and cultural factors that are the result of patriarchal traditions and mindsets.
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